Friday, 22 February 2008

Getting in touch with nature

A recent radio broadcast titled “Greening the psyche” relayed the importance of nature to the mind and covered a number of ideas which I found enlightening. The blurb for the programme read:

Intuitively we sense that nature relaxes us - even small pockets of green in the concrete urban jungle seem to make a difference. But finding good scientific evidence for how and why has been more difficult - until now. Crime rates, academic performance, aggression and even ADHD. Could a bit of greening make all the difference? And, ecology on the couch - a self described 'ecotherapist' with novel techniques.”

The point of this post is to just randomly highlight some of the ideas expressed in the programme. However, I will start with personal experience to attest the idea of greening the psyche. I can understand why people love gardening and its idea of getting in touch with nature literally and metaphorically. The main reason why I stay out of the garden is my ridiculous fear of certain insects, particularly insects which fly without direction and no consideration for the human face. Besides this and my lack of time, I have thoroughly enjoyed the few gardening experiences I have had, which have included weeding, watering and the occasional planting. Each time I have attempted to appreciate the greenness in my yard, I have left feeling grounded, calm and relaxed. Now to another profound experience which shocked me a little by how immediate its effects were. I recently visited a friend’s house; prior to the visit I had been feeling extremely anxious. After roughly ten minutes of being at my friend’s house, I was overcome by a peaceful and once again, relaxed feeling. Apart from the presence of my friend, I would attribute this change in feelings to the in-door water feature in the house. The trickle of the water was loud and soothing, and within minutes, all my anxieties had disappeared and I was able to remain in this state of mind for the whole duration of my visit. These are just two experiences which I am able to reflect back on and would recognise as contributing to “greening my psyche”. Another common scenario or experience where nature has a calming effect on the mind is while watching a sun set or in my case, being within a pseudo-rainforest in the middle of an urban setting (see image).

Now back to the radio programme…The broadcast briefly mentioned the idea of the Biophilia hypothesis, which is something new to me. First introduced by Erich Fromm and made popular by Edward Wilson, Wikipedia describes Biophilia as:

An instinctive bond between humans beings and other living systems.”

Wikipedia goes onto to say:
The term "biophilia" literally means "love of life or living systems." It was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital. Wilson uses the term in the same sense when he suggests that biophilia describes "the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.” He proposed the possibility that the deep affiliations humans have with nature are rooted in our biology. Unlike phobias, which are the aversions and fears that people have of things in the natural world, philias are the attractions and positive feelings that people have toward certain habitats, activities, and objects in their natural surroundings.”

While researching the Biophilia hypothesis, I discovered the connections between Biophilia and Biomimicracy. Biomimicracy was introduced in 1997 by Janine Benyus who argued that “human beings should consciously emulate nature's genius in their designs”. Many of those who supported the notion of Biophilia also had a strong belief in biomimicracy (including Lynn Margulis, a scientist mentioned in a previous post (Architecture mimicking nature and Gaia) who co-authored a book called “God, Gaia and Biophilia”). Biomimicracy is another newish term to me. Although I had heard of it before I had never taken a keen interest in it. Interestingly, this is exactly what I wrote about in the above mentioned post but I did not realise it had a name! Janine Benyus gives a truly fantastic and inspirational talk on Biomimicracy called "12 sustainable design ideas from nature", which i highly recommend watching (

Once again to get back to the interview….one of the interviewees on the programme was Frances E. Kuo. Frances supervises a landscape and human health laboratory at the University of Illinois ( The lab’s overall interest is described as “a multidisciplinary research laboratory dedicated to studying the connection between greenery and human health”. Some of the group’s most recent work includes using green activity settings to reduce ADHD symptoms; using view of trees from houses to improve girls’ self-discipline; using trees near houses to boost concentration and coping mechanisms; and residential landscaping to discourage crime, domestic violence and strengthen communities. Their work has been published in peer-reviewed journals showing the positive results of nature on human psyche.

Just to end this post, below are a couple quotes I took away from this programme, which I thought were beautifully described:

Community living rooms - the spaces between buildings”.
- Frances E. Kuo

Nurturing nature gives you something that humanity can’t; helping people feel part of a bigger whole”.
- Ambra Burls, an ecotherapist, who uses nature as co-therapy

(1) “Greening the psyche”, All in the Mind, ABC Radio National (16th February 2008)


georj said...

Hi, again Afro Scientress!

I do find this post very educational.... like learning and encoutering new terms like biophilia and biomimicracy!Thanks!

While reading your narration about having a relaxed feeling brought about by the distinct sound of the water... i was actually imagining it and it also gave me a soothing and blissful feeling! I also have a "fake" waterfalls in my house, and it relaxes me. Aside from sunset, simply being in the garden or being surrounded by plants also gives a calming effect! Oops, i read one time, cactus is best in the room where there are computers or where the sick persons are because cactus absorbs radiations and negative vibes. I don't really know if there's any scientific research made on this but just the same whether or not its true, the cacti or any kind of plants for that matter, make me feel relaxed! Indeed, nothing beats being in touch with nature!


The Afro Scientress said...

Hi Virgie, i have also heard about this phenomena but not just with cacti but indoor plants in general. I dont think you can go wrong by having any sort of plant in your immediate surroundings.
At the time of writing this post i was determined to buy one of those nature CDs which simulate the sounds of nature eg. rainforests, waterfalls, etc. I wanted to purchase one to listen to while driving or before going to bed in hope that it would be of similar benefit.

Afro Scientress

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